Which map background color (white, black, other?) is best from the perspective of ergonomics at the workplace? Certainly aspects play a role such as reflections, tiredness of the eyes, contrast and others.

Here are to be considered only maps with point and line symbols. No polygons, no raster.

Two examples:

enter image description here

(Perhaps the question seems unusual from the perspective of some GIS users: The hardcopy (paper) has a white background and therefore they also use a monitor with a white background. However, there are GIS which provide an easy change of the background color and the color of the map symbols. It can easily switched between the colors for the monitor and the colors for print.)

The optimal color certainly depends also from various conditions. For example, this could apply here:

  • TFT (no cathode ray tube)
  • Work in the office (not mobile)
  • Most of the time user collect data on the screen. But he must also read paper documents. Hence he switches from time to time between monitor and paper.

I would be happy to get answer with reasons/explanations. I think that there must be some objective reasons for the choice of color so that this is not a subjective question ("I like color x"). Our CAD staff says “black is best for eyes”. But they cannot explain why. (I suspect that 20 years ago (cathode ray tube) black was better).


Question is about best background color for a digital map on screen. Not for a printed map on paper.

  • It's is all personal preference at the end of the day. The general consensus in our work environment is CAD users prefer the black background and ArcGIS/QGIS users prefer white. Myth: Environmentally black on LCD LED ( but is on older CRT) is more energy efficient on the monitor but white is a toner/ink saver (as most plots/prints are on white paper).
    – Mapperz
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 13:44
  • 1
    "black is more energy efficient" is a myth: scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-black-is
    – blah238
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 13:47
  • Thanks for your comment @mapperz. But I cannot believe that the color depends on “personal preference” for a user who starts today with the GIS (or CAD). I assume that 20 years ago a white background of a cathode ray tube flickered more than a black background. Therefore users chose black for CAD. And therefore new users used black too. But I believe there must be objective criteria (for a new beginning user).
    – Jens
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 14:08
  • I find that light-on-dark (white-on-black) causes less eye-strain than dark-on-light (black-on-white) on a digital display. This is not an issue in hard copy (on paper), however.
    – Arthur
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 14:14
  • 1
    there you have it. Arthur states his personal preference. I already see that this needs to be moved to community wiki. the only thing outside of personal preference (IMHO) is colorblindness, and those needs are going to be variable (personal if you will) metalvortex.com/chart
    – Brad Nesom
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 14:58

4 Answers 4


There has been a research project at the National Technical University of Athens where researchers found that the background colour has no significant effect on the perception of map markers etc.

However, the colour of lines, markers, etc had a significant effect on the perception of the map. I have seen a copy of the research but I couldn't find it on the web, so I included links so that you can contact the university.

  • Perception of the map and eyestrain are two different things. Since he is asking about how "Easy it is on the eyes" and not "How this affects perception of map markers" I'd say this is an interesting point, but not quite an answer to his question. Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 19:54
  • The question is about ergonomics. Ergonomics includes perception. A CAD staffer at OP's job talking about "best for the eyes" is not enough justification for the assumption that perception is irrelevant for this questions.
    – ekapros
    Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 22:08
  • Hmm okay I could see that, but it feels misleading because one of his main points were eyestrain. Don't get me wrong I like your answer, it's one of the few that actually has research. Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 13:54

The contrast between colors is more imporant.

See the work of Ethan Schoonover, on the Solarized palette.

  • The first concern would indeed be distinctiveness of colors. But second: if it is a screen that users will have to look (stare) at for longer periods of time, it is better to use a background that's as dark as possible to reduce eyestrain.
    – Liang
    Commented Aug 26, 2013 at 7:36
  • 1
    @Liang based on what research? Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 19:51

I would recommend you to use white or any light colors close to white. The reason behind this is if user uses a color correction options or programs, it could really be annoying. For example, color inversion on mac (black on white vs. white on black) would change your black background to white where most of other programs, webpages etc. would be black.

If above is not valid reason for your case, you should consider lighting of workspace. If working in well illuminated office and at daytime, I prefer white background and when working in gloomy rooms and/or at night, I prefer dark gray or black background.

Or you could provide a option to switch colors, like this: http://compass-style.org/ (click the switch button).

  • I think Jens was more hoping for research rather than an anecdotal blurb. Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 18:44
  • @VoronoiPotato: What are you talking about? It's not a research, yes, but I provided my knowledge about color choosing and listed the factors that matter when choosing correct colors. Also, this response is nearly half a year old and your comment isn't providing anything constructive to this topic, nor my response, so please don't bump these old questions/answers for no reason next time. Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 23:21
  • When one downvotes it's common courtesy to put a reason why. Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 13:33

Black background is somehow standard in CAD area, it comes from time of CRT monitors and it is really better for eyes, even now. You can concentrate on what is painted, everything else is black and it is not shining into your face. On the other hand, this have some disadvantages - you don't see it in state as it will be printed. Next disadvantage is for example for color-blind people is a nightmare when there is red color with black background - this is even on your picture example - they will not see anything. Therefore good contrast coloring is important.

People with DTP background usually recommend white as the background, because they will print it afterwards on a white paper. So they see the colors as they will be printed. Disadvantage is, your face is flashed all the time by significant amount of light, what can distract some people - but this is just a point of view.

People usually choose more soft tone of "white" which is a bit grey. Disadvantage is that no all software / applications deal with that change correctly.

Choice is up to you

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